Category Archives: Elections

Lawmakers launch new PAC

MONTPELIER — A pair of moderate lawmakers — one a Democrat, the other a Republican — have launched a nonpartisan PAC aimed at electing candidates that seek “fiscal responsibility” and “balanced, common-sense public policies.”

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann

Reps. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, and Paul Ralston, D-Middlebury, who is not seeking reelection, announced the new political action committee, Vision to Action Vermont, on Monday. The duo, who have worked together on the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee for the past four years, say they want to “encourage economic prosperity, greater opportunities for Vermont families and businesses, and individual liberties and responsibility.”

“I am very excited to launch this new endeavor,” Scheuermann, who flirted with a run for governor earlier this year, said in a press release. “For many years, I have advocated strongly for a long-term, comprehensive strategy for economic growth in Vermont, and this organization will help bring that focus to the forefront.”

Ralston said November’s election is key, with lawmakers set to tackle health care, property taxes and “taxes in general” during the next legislative biennium that will have an impact on the state’s small businesses and families.

Rep. Paul Ralston

Rep. Paul Ralston

“We must be sure that those in elected positions address those issues thoughtfully and independently, and with an eye toward the benefits and consequences to our economy,” he said in the release.

The PAC plans to raise money to support, promote and endorse candidates of all parties “who are committed to policies of true economic growth, and show great leadership, strength, and independence, yet do so with compassion and respect.”

Milne admits past health, legal troubles

MONTPELIER — Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne revealed in a statement to reporters Thursday that he was arrested three times in college and suffered a stroke in 2006.

The arrests, two for driving under the influence of alcohol and one for possession marijuana and cocaine, all resulted in convictions. Milne said in a telephone interview Thursday that the cases were “settled as expeditiously as possible without spending money on counsel.”

“I don’t think about them on a daily basis, but my presumption is they are part of the public record,” he said.

In 2006, Milne suffered an ischemic stroke caused by a blood clot in his brain. He said he has made a full recovery, suffers “very little residual effect,” and has been cleared by doctors to campaign and serve as governor.

“Basically, I have a little bit of numbness on one side of my buddy and that really is about it,” Milne said.

He gave credit for his recovery to his daughter who he said sought immediate medical attention when the stroke occurred.

Milne, who has yet to formally launch his campaign, said he wanted the information about his past to be out in the open. He said facts about his past “might be important and relevant” to supporters.

Scott Milne

Scott Milne

“I think we wanted to get it out. If we started to campaign earlier we would have sent it out a lot earlier,” he said. “It was a consideration when I was weighing whether or not to run.”

Milne, in the statement sent to reporters, said “Vermonters have a right to a governor who is upfront and transparent.” He promised transparency about his personal life as well as the “economic challenges and crisis of affordability we face as a state.”

House approves campaign finance measure

MONTPELIER — The Housed passed a campaign finance reform bill Thursday on a bipartisan vote following a conference committee with Senate negotiators.

The legislation sailed through the House on a 124 to 15 roll call vote, but some members are disappointed in the final version of the legislation. The plan will raise some contribution limits.

House and Senate negotiators met out of session over the last several months after failing to reach agreement before the end of the 2013 legislative session. They  signed off on a compromise plan Tuesday, the first day of the 2014 legislative session.

The agreement will allow individuals, corporations and PACs  to contribute twice as much money — from $2,000 to $4,000 — directly to statewide candidates and PACs.

Meanwhile, political parties can now raise $10,000 directly from those same groups, up from $2,000, and up to $60,000 from their national parties.

Candidates for the Legislature will see a decrease in the contributions they can currently receive. Contributions to House candidates will capped at $1,000, while contributions to Senate candidates will be reduced to $1,500.

Political parties will be able to funnel unlimited amounts of money to candidates, however.

Independent and Progressive candidates said that provides an unfair advantage to Democrats and Republicans who can receive unlimited funding from their respective parties.

Some House members addressed the chamber to explain their votes, saying they voted in favor of the bill because it is time for the state to have limits in place.

Rep. Cynthia Browning, a Democrat from Arlington, said she voted against the bill because the contribution limits are too high and more disclosure should be required closer to elections. The bill is “not enough to even be called campaign finance reform,” she said.

The Senate will consider the compromise bill next week.

Christie fundraiser sells out

MONTPELIER — The Vermont GOP’s Welcome Winter Gala featuring New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has sold out, according to a party official.

Brent Burns, the state GOP’s political director, wrote to supporters Monday with the news. Party officials “have been absolutely overwhelmed by the excitement it has generated among Vermonters across the political spectrum,” he wrote.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

The event, set for Dec. 11 at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex, is being hosted by Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and Stowe Rep. Heidi Scheuermann. Christie, who easily won a second term earlier this month over Democratic challenger Barbara Buono, is likely to headline the Vermont GOP’s most successful event ever, according to Burns

“It has been a long time since we’ve enjoyed this kind of enthusiasm, and we couldn’t be more proud. We have already sold more than 600 seats and this event promises to be the most successful VTGOP event of all time,” he wrote.

No additional tickets can be reserved at this time. But Burns said the party is looking at options to allow more people to attend and is generating a waiting list if additional tickets can be sold.

The Vermont GOP recently reorganized and elected a new party chairman following a public, intra-party spat between party factions. The Christie fundraiser is “just the beginning of the revitalization of the Vermont Republican Party in Vermont,” Burns wrote.

Democratic PAC settles with state

MONTPELIER — A Democratic PAC must may a $30,000 penalty for violating the state’s campaign finance law during the 2010 election.

Green Mountain Future, a political action committee created by the Democratic Governors Association has settled with the state for the $30,000 penalty, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell announced Wednesday.

The settlement, which has been approved by the Vermont Superior Court, requires GMF to pay the state a civil penalty of $20,000 for failing to include its address on its website or in television ads that ran during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign. GMF must also pay a $10,000 penalty the court had previously imposed for not registering as a PAC and filing campaign finance reports.

“Voters are legally entitled to know who is seeking to influence them,” Sorrell said a statement. “PACs need to obey the laws. They cannot hide. They must disclose their identity, including their address, their donors, and their expenditures, to the extent required by law.”

GMF spent more than $500,000 during the 2010 campaign on political ads. Television ads attacking Republican candidate Brian Dubie, the state’s former lieutenant governor, aired thousands of times but did not include complete identifying information. The public had no way of knowing who was behind the ads because GMF did not file required reports, Sorrell said.

The Vermont Superior Court determined that GMF violated Vermont’s campaign finance laws in Dec. 2011 but did not impose a financial penalty for its failure to fully identify itself in ads.

The Vermont Supreme Court then ruled in September that the lower court erred in not imposing a penalty. In its decision the Vermont Supreme Court said “the difficulty of calculating a penalty [does not] mean that no penalty can be awarded.”

The case returned to the trial court for consideration of an appropriate penalty. The settlement announced Wednesday closes out the only remaining issue in the enforcement action, Sorrell said.

Sunderland elected chairman of GOP, promises to “change the way we do business”

Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo  Former Rutland Town representative David Sunderland gives a speech before being elected chair of the Vermont Republican Party during their convention in Montpelier Nov. 9.

Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Former Rutland Town representative David Sunderland gives a speech before being elected chair of the Vermont Republican Party during their convention in Montpelier Nov. 9.

Escalating discord within the Vermont Republican Party came to a head Saturday in Montpelier, where the organization’s state committee rebuked current leadership by selecting a new chairman who promises “to rebuild.”

Former Rutland Town Rep. David Sunderland won a decisive victory over John MacGovern on a platform that hews to the fiscal issues – taxes, health care and spending – on which he said all Republicans can agree.

The race between Sunderland and MacGovern was in many ways a proxy war between two factions that have been battling for nearly a year now. And it represents a win for a bloc of disaffected Republicans who faulted outgoing chairman Jack Lindley for his allegiance to a Republican National Committee whose social conservatism, they said, repelled the centrists that swing elections Vermont.

“At this critical, pivotal moment in our party’s history, we have a unique opportunity to change,” Sunderland told the nearly 200 GOP diehards crowded into the Elks Club in Montpelier. “We can change the way we do business, shedding the past legacies of top-down management and opting instead for teamwork, openness and transparency.”

Candidates for positions on the party’s governing board offered kind words to Lindley, who nearly died last month after falling suddenly ill. But their remarks about the state of the party amounted to a stinging indictment of his tenure. Continue reading

Christie to headline GOP fundraiser

MONTPELIER — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be the featured guest at the Vermont Republican Party’s “Welcome Winter Gala” fundraiser next month.

The event, hosted by Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and Stowe Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, will be held at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction on Dec. 11. The invitation, which went out Thursday morning, promises Vermont food, beverages and entertainment.

Christie won re-election on Tuesday by a comfortable margin over his Democratic challenger Barbara Buono.

Tickets to the event are $50 per person. For $1,000, a couple can attend a private reception with Christie.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (courtesy photo)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (courtesy photo)

Legalize it? Shumlin welcomes new cannabis debate in Vermont

In the wake of a federal memorandum that appears to condone the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, Gov. Peter Shumlin said he’s “open to further discussion” about instituting similar cannabis laws here.

The Department of Justice issued a long-awaited directive last week that outlines a hands-off approach for dealing with producers and sellers of marijuana in states that have legalized the plant, so long as those states have put in place “a strong and effective state regulatory system.”

Shumlin, a longtime proponent of cannabis reform, signed into law earlier this year the decriminalization legislation he spent years pushing through the Statehouse. Just two months after that law took effect, the second-term Democrat said he’s ready to talk about going further.

“I applaud the Department of Justice for being more clear about how they’re going to enforce legislative issues of small amounts of marijuana,” Shumlin said Tuesday. “And I am open to a further discussion in Vermont about what makes the most sense for this state.”

Shumlin hasn’t sought to bring the issue to the fore, and his comments about marijuana Tuesday came in response to questions from reporters on hand for a press conference on an unrelated issue.

But the politically astute governor also hasn’t been shy about talking about the issue, and, as Seven Days reported last month, Shumlin is scheduled to participate in a fundraising conference call later this month with the Marijuana Policy Project, a national advocacy outfit pushing for legalization. The subject of the call: “to discuss our strategy for legalizing marijuana nationwide over the next four years.”

During the debate over decriminalization, Shumlin said legalization would fly too aggressively in the face of federal statutes that now classify marijuana as Schedule I narcotic with no medicinal value. In light of the new DOJ stance, however, Shumlin said he’s ready to talk legalization.

Toensing’s arrival ushers in new chapter to Shumlin/Dodge land dispute

A high-profile attorney with ties to the Republican Party has become the newest character in an ongoing saga featuring the governor of Vermont and his ill-fated land deal.

Brady Toensing, whose former clients include Republican candidate for governor Brian Dubie, has signed on to represent Jeremy Dodge, the jilted East Montpelier landowner seeking to regain the 16-acre homestead he sold to Peter Shumlin last fall.

Dodge’s children say Shumlin exploited their troubled father by using the threat of an imminent tax sale to snap up for $58,000 a property valued by town listers at $140,000.

But what has until now been a neighborly dispute could soon turn political as Toensing, a veteran Republican operative, enters the fray.

Toensing on Tuesday denied any partisan motivations. In his lone statement to the press, he said he welcomes “the opportunity to assist a fellow Vermonter.”

“Mr. Dodge has been dealing with a sophisticated and shrewd businessman, a businessman who is also the most powerful person in Vermont, represented by one of the best lawyers money can buy,” Toensing said. “Mr. Dodge clearly needed some help.”

Toensing has represented Dubie on at least two occasions, most recently in 2011, when the state alleged that Dubie ran afoul of campaign-finance laws in his 2010 bid for governor by sharing polling data with the Republican Governors Association.

Toensing brokered a settlement in which Dubie paid a $10,000 civil penalty and made a $10,000 contribution to the Vermont Food Bank, though he never had to admit wrongdoing.

Toensing is a resident of Charlotte. But he is a partner at the storied diGenova & Toensing, LLP, a Washington, D.C., law firm founded by his step-father and mother. In a 1998 Washington Post article, reporter Howard Kurtz described Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing as a “classic Washington power couple,” taking to media airwaves to foment political scandal on behalf of Republican interests.

Prior to joining the family firm, Brady Toensing worked as a legislative assistant in the early 1990s for Warren B. Rudman, the two-term U.S. Senator from New Hampshire.

Shumlin has retained his own politically connected lawyer in the form of Jerry Diamond, the former three-term attorney general who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1980 – a race he lost to Republican Richard Snelling.

For more on this story, check out tomorrow’s editions of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald.

Conservative super PAC back in action with mailings that hit Dems over new taxes

The conservative super PAC “Vermonters First” is venturing back into legislative politics, this time with a statewide mailing that hammers Democratic lawmakers for proposed increases on a slew of taxes.

Earlier this year, Vermonters First, which spent about $1 million on behalf of Republican candidates during the last election cycle, aired a series of 15-second television ads calling Dems on the carpet for a proposed increase in the gas tax.

The group, funded almost exclusively (as of the latest campaign-finance disclosure deadlines) by Burlington heiress Lenore Broughton, is out now with glossy tri-folds, which began arriving Tuesday in the mailboxes of voters in districts with Democrats in the House.

“(Your representative here) just voted to go on a massive taxing spree!” the mailing says.

A photograph of a shopping cart filled with a pair of jeans, gas can, miniature house, cup of soda and a burger symbolizes the suite of provisions in three revenue bills passed by the Vermont House so far this yaer.

The House’s $23 million revenue bill would eliminate the sales tax exemption on soft drinks, candy, bottled water and items of clothing that cost more than $110. The legislation also raises the meals tax for a year, and would raise income taxes on rich people. An education-funding bill passed in February, meanwhile, would send property tax rates up by 5 cents.

“The high cost of living in Vermont is going to get worse if Democratic (your rep’s name here) gets her way,” the mailer says.

The coup de grace: a perforated tear-off, onto which Vermonters First has already printed the home address of the Democratic rep, that encourages voters to “write your own personal message” to the officeholder.

Broughton cried foul last year when a group of single-payer advocates picketed outside her Burlington home in protest of her media blitzes.

Vermonters First’s lone staff, Tayt Brooks, didn’t respond to requests for comment, as usual. But the mailings indicate that Broughton is as committed as ever to ending one-party rule, and is willing to spend a lot of money to get it done.

Vt. GOP struggle: Go moderate? Or stay the course of conservative?

Phill Scott

Phil Scott

They’ve descended to super-minority status in both the House and Senate, and lay claim to just one of Vermont’s six statewide offices.

By the numbers at least, the once-dominant Vermont Republicans have reached a new low in their years-long fall from grace. Their fight for the future, however, is being waged not with the Democrats that so embarrassed them in the last two election cycles, but among fellow Republicans vying against each other for control of the party’s organizational apparatus.

The emergence of two factions — one led by Vermont Republican Party Chairman Jack Lindley, the other by Lt. Gov. Phil Scott — has pitted the old-guard GOP against a cadre of upstart reformists looking to put some distance between themselves and the Republican National Committee.

As a group led by Scott pieces together a statewide re-branding strategy aimed at picking up the centrists and Independents he says have been turned off by the party in recent years, Lindley and others are beginning to push back against a plan that would, in Lindley’s words, “turn its back on the national party.”

“I’m not about to go down the road of trying to have a party in Vermont that’s Democrat-lite,” Lindley said in an interview last week.
Continue reading

Dottie Deans elected to serve as Democratic Party’s new chairwoman

The Vermont Democratic Party has a new chairman.
The Democrats’ state committee on Saturday voted unanimously in favor of Dottie Deans, who replaces outgoing chairman Jake Perkinson. Deans, of North Pomfret, most recently served as vice-chairwoman of the party, and said she’s eager to begin preparing for the 2014 election cycle.

“I look forward to continuing our work concentrating on our
biennial reorganization in our towns, counties, and state as well as
supporting our elected representatives here and in Washington and
preparing for the 2014 elections,” Deans said in a statement.

According to a party release, Deans is a former elementary school teacher who began her climb through party ranks as town chairwoman in Pomfret. Deans is also known for her local HIV/AIDS Service organization, H2RC, where she served as a volunteer, staff member, and most recently stepped down as the board chairwoman, according to the release.

“As a teacher I know that an integral part of learning is listening and
staying focused on the tasks at hand,” Deans said. “I will concentrate on working with all Democrats to grow and strengthen our outreach and presence
throughout our state.”

Condos stays in-house for new elections chief

Vermont will soon have a new elections chief.

Longtime Director of Elections and Campaign Finance Kathy Scheele is stepping down at the end of March. Secretary of State Jim Condos announced today that he’s promoting Will Senning to take over the position.

Born and raised in Duxbury, Senning, who holds a JD from Vermont Law School, has worked in the state elections office since 2011. Condos said in a release that under Scheele’s guidance, Senning has become well acquainted with the laws and responsibilities involved with the elections process.

Will has built a strong relationship with our town clerks and other local election officials,” Condos said in a written statement. “He believes that the Elections Division should work as a team with Vermont’s local officials to serve their citizens as they take part in our critical and important elections process.”


UPDATED: Perkinson out as Democratic Party chair

Jake Perkinson, who’s milling about the Statehouse cafeteria this morning in the wake of announcing his resignation as chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party, says a confluence of business and family matters has compelled him to call it quits.

He said he leaves under nothing but good terms, and that it’s really about freeing up time for him to spend more time with his kids and pursue some professional opportunities.

Perkinson said he also wants to allow talent within the party to churn through the ranks, and that by leaving now, he prevents the kind of hierarchical “logjam” that comes with longer-serving chairs.

The party this morning announced the imminent departure of Jake Perkinson. He’ll step down March 16, according to a press release, when he’ll be replaced on an interim basis by vice-chairwoman Dottie Deans.

Perkinson has been with the party for a decade, and helped orchestrate its near sweep of Republicans in the most recent election cycle.

We’ll have more on Perkinson’s tenure in tomorrow’s editions of the Times Argus and Rutland Herald.

Below, the release:

Continue reading

Critics say campaign finance bill has gone off the rails

Elections watchdogs say a bill aimed at tempering the influence of money in politics would only exacerbate the problem.

The Senate Committee on Government Operations has spent much of the first two months of the session on a wide-ranging campaign-finance bill, S.82, that originally sought heightened disclosure requirements in the elections process.

The bill comes in the wake of a 2012 election cycle that saw super PACs make their debut in Vermont. Lawmakers from all three parties seemed to agree that while the Legislature can’t curb the flow of  money into these new entities, they can at least help voters follow the money.

But changes to the bill in recent weeks have drawn fire from elections watchdogs, who say the legislation would actually intensify the stream of cash flowing into the elections process.

At issue is a proposed increase in the size of allowable donations to candidates and political parties, who would, under the new rules, be allowed to receive larger contributions from their donors.

Proponents say the higher limits are a necessary evil aimed at helping candidates counteract the impact of super PACs, which aren’t bound by limits on the contributions they can accept. Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, disagrees with the tactic.

It’s like saying that I object to the amount of pollution that a large factory is discharging into the river, and my solution is to allow every other factory to increase its pollution in order to achieve parity,” Burns said in a release. “This arms race mentality only increases the problem of money in politics, it doesn’t solve it.”

Political candidates currently can accept no more than $2,000 from a single donor in a two-year campaign cycle. The Senate bill, up for a committee vote later this afternoon, would increase that figure to $5,000. The bill would allow candidates to accept up to $7,000 from political action committees, and $85,000 from political parties.